TC Design

BMW M2 Build - Data and Video System

All respectable track cars need a data and video system of some kind to see where you can improve. In my case I need all the coaching I can get. There are plenty of systems out there to choose from. You have the inexpensive iPhone + app setup. The slightly more expensive iPhone + app + GoPro system. The expensive dedicated data and video system that tap into the ECU and receive a multitude of data channels and then overlays that data onto track video. And finally, the pro custom systems that monitor every aspect of the car and streams that data back to the pit crew for real time analysis.

On any given track day the dominant system (by far) is the iPhone + app + GoPro. I started with this system years ago and it is great for the price. You have apps like Harry’s Lap Timer that do a terrific job at capturing some data channels and video and putting it all together for engaging video footage. The only issue is that you can’t do deep analysis on the data or easily compare the data from a reference lap to the rest of your laps. Also you end up with gear all over the windshield (iPhone + GoPro + cables). There is a practical problem with all that gear stuck to your windshield or dash besides visibility……and that is “when” it falls off it may fall into the driver’s footwell and obstruct the pedals. Having something fall by your feet as you are dive bombing into a turn is not a great feeling. The other thing that bothered me with the iPhone setups was the constant management I had to do with the gear. Turn this on, check that, recharge this. All of that time and attention took away from enjoying the day and focusing on driving.

So years ago I switched to an AIM system. My original system was a Solo DL + Smartycam. A system like this is more streamlined, is automated (turns on and records and shuts off all based on you starting and finishing a session), and since it is a dedicated system it is more feature rich. The downside….price. These systems can add up quickly but if you are on the track enough they are worth it. About 1-2 years ago AIM updated their lineup and came out with the Solo 2 DL and Smartycam GP HD 2 which is the system I picked for the SVMC M2. It taps into the ECU, has GPS, draws power from the car, overlays the data onto the video in real time, and has a powerful (albeit cumbersome) computer application to store and analyze all your data. The Solo 2 DL even has wifi connectivity to pass all the data (not video) to your track side laptop.

Keeping with the GTS theme for the M2 I decided to do a custom installation for the AIM system to hide all the wires and make it look like a factory option. So I had a fabricator (TC Design) build a metal housing over the cup holder area of the M2 in the center console and powder coat that glass black so I could mount the Solo 2 DL in a central place that is out of the way but easy to read. It also allowed me to tuck all the wires behind the dash. The enclosure also gives me a place to mount switches in the future. I then mounted the Smartycam GP HD 2 behind the driver in the backseat footwell so I could easily access it but keep it out of the way. I am left with a system that is fully contained, fully automated, pulls data from the car, and makes analysis quick and easy. In short it is fool proof and works every time without having to do anything. The only issue I have with the Solo 2 DL is that the level of ECU support for the F87 chassis is light. BMW is rather strict on what channels they allow to flow through to systems like AIM. This is more of an issue for BMWs as other cars like Porsches are much more open. But the data channels you do get are rather good (some temps, RPM, wheel speed, calculated gear, etc.). A slightly more advanced option would be to run independent sensors and use an AIM system like the MXm. In hindsight I wish I had gone this route.

Now let’s talk about predictive grip data. One thing that most data systems lack is true predictive grip data which is the level of potential grip your car has at any given moment. The only system I know of that has this capability is APEX. This little device has a series of lights that show you the potential grip at that moment compared to the amount of grip you are using. The APEX device wirelessly connects to your iPhone and does have other data recording capabilities, but for my purposes I only really use the APEX system to record potential grip compared to actual grip. It is a great way to see how effective you are using the grip….AKA how hard and smooth are you driving. If you are not interested in buying an AIM system you can use APEX for an end to end system that is better than most iPhone + app setups.

Once you have all the data and video information handy then you need to know how to read the data. For that get a book or take a class or watch training videos to make sense of all those squiggly lines. Good luck with that.

BMW M2 Build - Custom Cage

I, like many others, started my track experience in a stock street car but it wasn't long before I realized just how important safety gear is.  In my opinion you can't spend too much money on safety gear.  I knew I wanted a cage added to the M2 and while a full cage would have been safer it would have limited the SVMC M2 to the track as it would no longer be street legal.  Because this build had to be street legal, I went with a half cage.  But not just any half cage, an extremely custom and over-engineered half cage by TC Design.

I could have gone for an off the shelf half cage and pre-fabricated rear seat delete panels.  I could have gone with the high end options from BMW Moto GP, RKG, or Fall Line.  But when you look at all of these options you will notice some design compromises that seem to be a little less safe.  All of the cages I looked at were built to some spec (NASA or SCCA usually) and certainly are better than no cage, but they seem to have sub par mounting points or had the horizontal bar at the wrong height or used a simplistic design that sacrificed strength.  I have no doubt they are all "good" cages but I wanted the best possible half cage.

That is what led me to TC Design who I commissioned to design and fabricate the cage and rear panels.   TC Design took inspiration from the BMW M4 GTS cage but made design improvements on how and where the cage mounted to the chassis as well as changing the design of the horizontal bar.  The gusseted main hoop cross showcases Tony's welding skills, increases the strength of our design over the M4 GTS, and puts the horizontal bar in a better position for the racing seats and 6 point harness.  We then topped it off by powder coating the cage in white to match the car.

 Tony then moved onto designing and fabricating the panels which are a work of art.  He was able to bend and cut the panels to fit perfect and give it an OEM look.  The panels are removable as needed and were powder coated in black for durability.  It is almost a shame that these panels will be upholstered in OEM Alcantara and Polar Blue stitching to match the factory interior.  Be on the lookout for a future blog posting focused on the upholstery which has been one of the most difficult parts of the build to source and plan.

The end result was a stronger cage that stayed with the theme of a no compromise GTS.  Next stop....back to Edge Motorworks to have the brakes and suspension finished before some much needed test and tuning.  Then it goes to the uphostery shop to have the racing seats and rear seat delete panels dressed up before going back to Edge for some carbon fiber aero parts installed.  Stay tuned to watch my madness unfold.